Identification of a truncated splice variant of IL-18 receptor alpha in the human and rat, with evidence of wider evolutionary conservation

PeerJ. 2014 Sep 11;2:e560. doi: 10.7717/peerj.560. eCollection 2014.


Interleukin-18 (IL-18) is a pro-inflammatory cytokine which stimulates activation of the nuclear factor kappa beta (NF-κB) pathway via interaction with the IL-18 receptor. The receptor itself is formed from a dimer of two subunits, with the ligand-binding IL-18Rα subunit being encoded by the IL18R1 gene. A splice variant of murine IL18r1, which has been previously described, is formed by transcription of an unspliced intron (forming a 'type II' IL18r1 transcript) and is predicted to encode a receptor with a truncated intracellular domain lacking the capacity to generate downstream signalling. In order to examine the relevance of this finding to human IL-18 function, we assessed the presence of a homologous transcript by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in the human and rat as another common laboratory animal. We present evidence for type II IL18R1 transcripts in both species. While the mouse and rat transcripts are predicted to encode a truncated receptor with a novel 5 amino acid C-terminal domain, the human sequence is predicted to encode a truncated protein with a novel 22 amino acid sequence bearing resemblance to the 'Box 1' motif of the Toll/interleukin-1 receptor (TIR) domain, in a similar fashion to the inhibitory interleukin-1 receptor 2. Given that transcripts from these three species are all formed by inclusion of homologous unspliced intronic regions, an analysis of homologous introns across a wider array of 33 species with available IL18R1 gene records was performed, which suggests similar transcripts may encode truncated type II IL-18Rα subunits in other species. This splice variant may represent a conserved evolutionary mechanism for regulating IL-18 activity.

Keywords: Comparative genomics; Interleukin-18; Splice variant; Toll-like receptor.

Grant support

Funding for this project was received from the Health Research Council of New Zealand ( The project numbers are 08/076D and 11/1076D. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.